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Video of LSU running back hugging his father turned into a debate about race

Online, many had a visceral reaction to the white woman trying to get Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s attention

LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native who got to live out a dream on Nov. 9 by clinching a win against Alabama with a gutsy, tackle-breaking touchdown run in the fourth quarter. As soon as the game was over, Edwards-Helaire found his father in the stands and embraced him, sobbing into his arms while the two shared a loving moment that has since gone viral.

But one part of that video keeps poking at me. If you allow your eyes to stray from Edwards-Helaire and his father, then you’ll see a white woman trying to get Edwards-Helaire’s attention, maybe, for a selfie or an autograph. She’s tapping Edwards-Helaire and yelling not his name, but his jersey number “22! 22!” to get his attention.

The social media responses to the video show that the racial politics in play create a visceral reaction to the woman feeling like she could lord over those two black men’s bodies.

I doubt the woman thought much about what she was doing. I doubt she realized that she was trying to separate a black man from his son in a moment of raw emotion that so much of the media likes to pretend doesn’t exist. That she felt her needs were more important than two black men bonding over a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

A few months ago, I was at a party in Atlanta and the DJ started playing one of my favorite songs, “Watch for the Hook,” a Southern classic. I made eye contact with a brother next to me who was in his own zone rapping along, so we started rapping word-for-word, playing off of one another and laughing along at the parts we messed up or hit pitch-perfectly. There’s a verse on “Watch for the Hook,” where Cee-Lo and Khujo Goodie trade bars so fast that nobody in the known universe can replicate it. So me and my new rap partner just shrugged and laughed at the shared understanding that we had no clue what was being said and have spent the last 20 years mumbling through those parts.

Suddenly, a white woman walked over to us.

“No! Keep going!”

She’d been hooting and hollering in our direction while we rapped, but was far enough away that we could ignore her. Now, she was in our space.

“What happened?! Don’t stop!”

Even though the song had moved to the parts that me and my new friend could recite, we stopped altogether. We made eye contact again, shrugged, shook our heads and just walked away. Without speaking to each other, we were communicating that we both understood what was happening. We’d been here before.

That woman didn’t see two black men as simply having fun. She saw us as there for her entertainment. Even in a moment of joy and fun, we were there to serve her. Our bodies represented something that was owed to her.

I think about the woman from that club when I see the woman at LSU. And I’m sure many black people had memories of white people trying to own our bodies that came flooding back when they saw that white lady clawing at two black men to serve her desire to have a selfie or whatever she wanted.

Of course, in a vacuum, the woman looks like she’s partaking in typical entitled fan behavior, operating under the belief that spectators are owed access to every celebrity we come across. We’ve watched videos of fans pushing past acceptable boundaries with people whom they believe they have unlimited access to at all times.

Maybe we’re bringing our own experiences with race into the equation, but no one can blame us. The history of black men’s bodies being seen as existing for the service of white women spans as long as black people have been in this country. The anger over the video is equally about that woman’s entitlement and the 400 years that have come before it.

Then there was another viral video from last week that showed Megan Mullen, the wife of Florida football coach Dan Mullen, participating in her weekly ritual of hugging and kissing the players when they get off the team bus. The video is surreal — a white woman kissing (mostly) black men on their cheeks, hugging and patting them as they go off to play.

In her defense, Gator receiver Tyrie Cleveland had positive words about the ritual: “The way she shows love to us it’s a cool thing to have. It’s good to have a lady like that, sweet and kind.” However, the way power dynamics are set up I’m not sure if any players are going to feel as though they are at liberty to speak out against the coach’s wife and the way she treats them. Again, history dictates how we absorb these videos and Mullen should be aware of her actions and how they appear to us, let alone how they make those black boys feel.

Sadly, there is no space for ignorance, teachable moments or harmless interactions across races in America. Every action has a history that is far too tangible. There’s no way to avoid it. It’s on white people to be cognizant of that history and the way it plays out in how black bodies are treated in this country. At the very least, they should know to leave us alone when we’re celebrating the biggest moments of our lives.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.